BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Culver volleyball team lost Sydney Denham and Alina Pizur to graduation, and coach Andrea Berndt is seeking players to fill in their roles.
But there is also a list of returning players that might have set expectations higher than any year in which Berndt has been coach.
The team has good camaraderie and communicates well with each other, according to Berndt.
That might have been on display during a scrimmage against Tippecanoe Valley at John R. Nelson Gymnasium Thursday, where Culver capped the night by winning the final varsity set 25-19.
“They probably are,” Berndt said when asked if these were the highest expectations for a team that she has coached. “And I’m hoping that they can rise up to that expectation. They have a lot of talent. We have 23 girls this year, which is the most we’ve ever had. But expectations varsity-wise are going to be up there.”
One way in which the team might look different is how junior Avery Garland is being used. She and sophomore Livi Overmyer often formed a 1-2 blocking duo.
“Avery is used to playing a lot of middle and a lot of right,” Berndt said. “This year, we’re trying to keep her on the left side and Livi playing in the middle. Livi’s going to put in some good minutes for us varsity-wise, or we look for her to do that. So I think we can get a lot of touches on blocks with the girls that we have this year.”
Overmyer is one of four sophomores on the roster along with Brynn Berndt, Ashley Pugh and Meredith Gordon. Brynn Berndt has the most experience of the four, and coach Berndt sees Brynn as the one who gets swings in clutch situations.
Senior Taylor Darnell is the libero.
“That’s what we’ve talked about as a team,” coach Benrdt said. “We kind of look at stats, and that’s with serving and with passing and who’s our best statistical hitter and who’s our best statistical passer, and we need to get the ball to them. We, of course, look to Brynn to finish those plays out and to get us a point on those when we have those tough plays.
“And then, of course, in the back row passing, we need to make sure we put our libero in the best situation we can as well.”
Coach Berndt said to look for Maegan Pearl to play more middle hitter as a replacement for Pizur.
Denham was a defensive specialist who was a leader “on the court and off the court,” according to coach Berndt.
“So we are trying to find that voice,” coach Berndt said.
Coach Berndt said leadership has been a topic of conversation in the locker room. It’s still a work in progress. Garland, Grace Sieber, Shelby Olivarez and Willow Harrington are the four juniors who saw extensive action.
Sieber is in her third year on the varsity as a setter.
A shoulder injury that kept senior Luci Overmyer out of the scrimmage has complicated matters so far. Darnell, Pearl, Luci Overmyer and defender Chloee Danti are the four seniors who saw extensive playing time against Valley.
“We have five seniors this year,” coach Berndt said. “One is injured right now, so she is not able to be on the court, but of course, you would always look for seniors to lead. That’s just a natural position for them.
“But we’re looking at juniors and sophomores as well. They have a lot of minutes on the court. And they are trying to step into a leadership role too, which is new for them. So we’re still looking and trying to figure that out.”
The season opener is a road match against Oregon-Davis on Tuesday. O-D knocked Culver out of last year’s sectional.